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“Some people have it together and know what they are doing, but some who venture up there are complete ass clowns.” That’s how the San Miguel Sheriff’s Office describes the spike in Rocky Mountain 4×4 rescues in a Facebook post. Off-road passes, sometimes marked as “Closed,” are stranding off-roaders at ever-increasing rates, literally daily. 

“It’s crazy—we’ve all recognized an uptick,” a mountain towing operator told the Outside. “We’re just seeing more and more stupid people with stuck vehicles in places they shouldn’t be, and it’s wasting our resources for real emergency rescues.” That is the real issue: providing services for emergencies and the difficulty in doing so when you’re pulling someone out of a jam they shouldn’t be in

Why do stuck off-roaders say they use these trails?

Car stuck in snow with two wolves in foreground
Car stuck on snowy path | Mario Tama/Getty

There are many reasons why those going where they shouldn’t need help getting off of the passes. Everything from a woman high on psychedelic mushrooms driving her Mustang up a path to blaming it on GPS and those who feel the need to just go for it. It is overtaxing the rescue services that cover the high passes of Northern Colorado. 

Box truck, semi-truck, and even bus drivers have set their ire on GPS tracking. Many of these paths are not open, usually due to fire, flooding, or mudslides. Either focussing on their GPS or otherwise ignorant of the signs and conditions, off-road drivers blaze a trail upwards of 15,000 feet high.

Are there other reasons why there are so many 4×4 rescues?

Digging out car stuck in snow
Digging out of snow | Helen H. Richardson/ Denver Post via Getty

There is another reason that some say is causing the uptick in rescues: social media. Or rather, the attention one gets from showing dumb stuff on social media. But it can also be a result of just plain old not having enough preparation or not knowing any better.

In fact, Outside spoke with one psychologist who said it had to do with the Dunning-Kruger effect. That’s the phenomenon where those not completely knowledgeable on a subject have too little knowledge to know they can or can’t do something. Those with the skills know the dangers and thus, stay away from those paths and trails. 

How much do these 4×4 rescues cost?

Toyota 4Runner clinging to a Rocky Mountain trail
Toyota 4Runner stuck on a Rocky Mountain trail | San Miguel Sheriff’s Office

The problem also exacerbates itself when it comes to time and expenses, like needing a bobcat tractor to free up a vehicle. Since most of these recovery companies are non-profits, they don’t charge for getting one unstuck, and the fine for getting stuck by the Forest Service is a measly $150. 

So now it is working to change things. It is putting together a licensing program for recovery companies. Off-roaders will call for help with the understanding that the rescue services can run up to $5,000, even if they abandon their vehicles. That is one deterrent that will hopefully slow down the pace of these unnecessary rescues. 

The other could be a public shaming of sorts. A local recovery company is putting together shows for the Weather Channel to show their more ridiculous rescues. In this way, those looking for social media attention will get plenty of it. Just not the type they were hoping for. 


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